Special to the tribune
Was acting as Pak agent for more than 20 yrs to influence the US policy on Kashmir
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC
The US Justice Department has charged two US citizens in a decades-long conspiracy to illegally funnel millions of dollars from the Pakistan Government and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to push the Kashmiri cause in Washington.
Ghulam Nabi Fai, director of the Washington-based advocacy group Kashmiri American Council (KAC), was arrested on Tuesday on the charge of participating in the conspiracy to act as an agent of the Pakistan Government without disclosing this affiliation as required under the US law. The KACalso goes by the name ‘Kashmir Center’.
Fai, 62, and another man, Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a US citizen and resident of Pakistan, are charged in a one-count criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia. The complaint alleges that the two have conspired to act as an agent of a foreign principal without registering with the attorney general in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA); and falsify, conceal, and cover up material facts they had a duty to disclose in matters within the jurisdiction of executive branch agencies of the US Government.
Ahmad remains at large and is believed to be in Pakistan. Both face a potential sentence of five years in prison, if convicted.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, while the KAC claims to be a Kashmiri organisation run by Kashmiris and financed by Americans, it is actually one of three ‘Kashmir Centres’ that are run by elements of the Pakistan Government, including the ISI. The other two Kashmir Centres are in London and Brussels.
A confidential witness told investigators that the ISI created the KAC to work on behalf of the Pakistan Government with the goal of uniting Kashmir. This witness said ISI’s sponsorship and control of the KAC were secret and that the ISI had been directing Fai’s activities for the past 25 years.
“Mr Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose: “To hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the US government’s position on Kashmir”, said Neil MacBride, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to US elected officials, fund high-profile conferences, and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington”.
A second confidential witness told investigators that he participated in a scheme to hide the origin of money transferred by the ISI to Fai to use as a lobbyist for the KAC to further interests of the Pakistan Government. Ahmad allegedly transferred the money to Fai through a hawala network.
The US Justice Department informed Fai in March last year of his obligation to register as a foreign agent. Fai said at the time that neither he nor KAC had ever engaged in any activity for or provided any services to Pakistan or any foreign entity.
He reiterated that claim in a March 2011 interview with the FBI. The affidavit alleges that Fai has acted at the direction of and with the financial support of the Pakistan Government for more than 20 years. Four handlers of the Pakistan Government directed Fai’s activities in the US and he has been in touch with them more than 4,000 times since June 2008, it added. These handlers also allegedly communicated with Ahmad regularly.
Fai submitted annual KAC strategy reports and budgetary requirements to his Pakistani handlers for approval. Among the budgetary requirements was a $100,000 outlay to be contributed to members of the US Congress. However, there is no evidence that any of the lawmakers who received the money were aware it originated from the Pakistan Government. According to the affidavit, Fai and the KAC received at least $4 million from the Pakistan Government since the mid-1990s.
“Foreign governments who try to influence the United States by using unregistered agents threaten our national security,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin. “Mr Fai’s alleged conduct illustrates the risk to our fair and open government.”
The KAC describes itself as a “not-for-profit organisation dedicated to raising the level of knowledge in the US about the struggle of Kashmiri people for self-determination.”